Turn Off the &#!% Car!

Permit me a rant.

Scene I: a glorious Saturday afternoon in spring. Blue skies, green grass, children kicking soccer balls. Mild, but not too warm. And a silver mini-van idling in the parking lot at the edge of the playing field, its owner nowhere to be seen.

Scene II: Another beautiful day in early spring. Grace and I are taking a leisurely bike ride along the country-like roads that wind through the Lyndhurst estate. We pass a car left at the side of the road, running. There is no-one within 200 feet of the vehicle.

Scene III: A gas station on Central Avenue in Scarsdale. A woman jumps out of her SUV and begins pumping gas. Heedless of the signs forbidding it, she leaves the engine running the whole time.


I’m going to assume for a moment that the drivers were unaware of the pollutants they were spewing into the air. But why would you waste expensive gas in that way? (As Grace pointed out, gas was leaving the gas station lady’s car as she was pumping it in! She was also hedging her bets that she wouldn’t blow herself and everyone else sky high.)

In the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, the hero Atticus Potts gallantly, albeit grudgingly, helps the lovely Miss Truly Scrumptious with the arduous task of cranking up her car. But we don’t live in the early 20th century when cars were newfangled contraptions and women wore ankle-length white dresses to go out driving. It doesn’t take any effort at all to turn your car on and off. Really. Most cars start right up with just the turn of a key.

I can understand, though I don’t agree with, the people who sit in a warm running car in the winter while waiting for the school bus with their kids. (Though when did our children, or we, become so fragile that we couldn’t just send them out bundled in hats, scarves and mittens?) Or sitting in an air-conditioned car on a brutally hot July day. But when we do that, we are making a statement. And that statement is: our own comfort is more important that the air that we breathe.

There are several good reasons to turn off your engine when you’re not going anywhere:

1) It’s the law in Westchester County.
Westchester County’s anti-idling law went into effect on February 10, 2009. It reads, in part: “The county’s anti-idling law limits the time any motor vehicle in Westchester County
may idle, when the vehicle is not in motion, to three consecutive minutes.”

2) Idling has a negative impact on the air that we all breathe. According to the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center, “idling is linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease and cancer.” In its “State of the Air” Report 2010, the American Lung Association gives Westchester County an “F” grade for ozone levels and a “C” for particles pollution. The report notes that air pollution is more dangerous for children because their lungs are still developing and kids are so active.

3) On it’s website, the Consumer Energy Center notes, “idling gets ZERO miles to the gallon. For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile… Even in winter, you don’t need to let your car sit and idle for five minutes to “warm it up” when 30 seconds will do just fine.”

The Consumer Energy Center also dispels these myths about idling:

Myth: Idling is good for your engine. Reality: Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems. Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.

Myth: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine and uses more gas than if you leave it running. Reality: Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like the battery and the starter motor. Component wear caused by restarting the engine is estimated to add $10 per year to the cost of driving, money that will likely be recovered several times over in fuel savings from reduced idling. The bottom line is that more than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine.

So, the next time you are picking someone up, waiting for your child to emerge from school or pulled over to use your cell phone, turn off your engine. You’ll be saving gas and protecting the health of your children, my child and the thousands of kids who depend on us adults to keep them safe.

Westchester’s Anti-Idling Law:www.bedfordny.info/html/pdf/green/2009%20WC%20Anti-Idling%20Law.pdf

California Consumer Energy Center:

State of the Air report: http://www.stateoftheair.org/2010/states/new-york/westchester-36119.html.


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